The Brighter Writer

FRIDAY, JUNE 1, 2012

Roadside Attraction Tour! First Stop: Swetsville Zoo

There is something fascinating about roadside attractions. They sort of fit in the same realm as the circus and freak shows to me. They're all very peculiar and, in my opinion, belong in the foreground of horror movies. Honestly, they creep me out a little bit. Which is why I love them.

The origin of most typical novelty-architecture-type roadside attractions (ie; giant dinosaurs, Paul Bunyan, big chickens...) came about in the 50's and 60's as places to stop while you were on your way to a real destination. Small towns on the road to bigger towns could make some quick cash by opening a cheap diner right outside the Alamo (or whatever) if it happened to have something cool enough to catch the eye of a passerby. Like in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, for example, when they see the giant Dinosaur. (Not that I know that movie well enough to remember that scene because I own it on DVD and watch it at least once a month just so I can see the part where Large Marge's eyes pop out or anything...)

Sometime after that, during the 70's and 80's, roadside attractions started to turn strange and unusual and became more of the "hey, come check out this curiosity! It has 5 heads and is made out of real human beard hair!" variety. Those are the types I'm the most interested in.

So yesterday, after having a conversation about the world's largest groundhog located in western Kansas, my interest was peaked to find out if there was anything I needed to see along those same lines here in Fort Collins...

behold: The Swetville Zoo:

I have seen a lot of weird stuff in my lifetime. But never in my life have I walked into a place and been so completely enamored and sketched out at the same time. The owner, a quiet guy named Bill Swets (it's always the quiet ones...) started making statues out of old farm machines and scrap metal and eventually he started displaying them in his front yard. 1 turned into 2, 2 turned into 160. They're very...uh...unexpected, some are awfully twisted and it's a little bit eerie when you're in the middle of someone's backyard with hundreds of them staring at you. I loved it. It was sort of like an art-deco-junk-yard-playground.

You can see the giant rickety gate from the freeway that towers above your car inviting you down the driveway. You park in a gravel tiny parking lot, walk through the entrance, and are immediately engulfed in metal spiders, banjo playing parking meter men, and rusted shovel vultures. Creepy factor number one: it's in a wooded area. Creepy factor number two: it's right next to a giant river that flows under the overpass, and looks like places I've seen on Dateline where they find dead bodies.

This trailer turned Taj Mahal is where I'm assuming Mr. Swets and his wife must live.

Regardless of my personal heebie jeebies, Kalynn had a blast. A dirty, filthy blast.


I'm aware that I have all sorts of life bucket lists, and Colorado bucket lists and whatever else lists that I aspire to see and do, however, I'm adding another: A Roadside Attraction Tour. I want to take a couple of weeks at some point in the future, and see this great country that we live in. I want to drive, in and out of every car accessible state, and check out America. (Why does saying America sound so much more patriotic than saying the United States?) And on this road trip, I want to stop in the all the oddball roadside attractions and be sketched out by them. Not the giant statue types, but the perplexing and bizarre types. Anyone care to join me?